CARSON CITY -- He might be 81, but former Assemblyman Harry Mortenson says he is the right age and has the right stuff to be elected state senator for District 11 in Clark County.
"I feel like I'm 45. I feel fantastic," said Mortenson, a Democrat who was prevented by term limits in 2010 from seeking re-election to the Assembly District 42 seat he held for 14 years.
"I promise not to hold my experience and knowledge over my younger opponent," Mortenson said, borrowing a line from former President Ronald Reagan.
That opponent is Aaron Ford, who is 39. The two are competing in the June 12 primary in the district that includes Spring Valley and generally lies west of Interstate 15 and south of Desert Inn Road. The winner will face Republican John Drake in November. Democrats have a more than 7,000-registered voter advantage.
If he wins, Mortenson will turn 82 before he takes office next year, making him the oldest person to be seated in the Senate for the first time.
Fred T. West was 75 when he first won election to the Assembly in 1953. That made him the oldest person to win legislative office for the first time, according to the legislative research staff.
Bill Raggio was 84 when he resigned from the Senate last year and may have been the oldest person to serve in the Legislature, but such records are incomplete.
VOTERS TEND TO BE OLDER
Studies show that more than half of the voting population in the United States is older than 45 and that voting is greatest among people 60 to 70. Members of Congress have been steadily growing older. In 2010, the average age of House members was 57 and senators 63.
AARP has no research on whether older people are less electable.
But during the 2008 presidential campaign, Pew Research found that 34 percent of those polled thought John McCain, at 72, was too old to be elected president. McCain lost the race to Barack Obama.
Ford said Mortenson's age is a nonissue that won't be a factor in the race.
Instead, Ford thinks he is a better candidate because he worked for three years as a teacher before becoming a lawyer and understands the importance of education, the No. 1 issue for the Legislature. Ford has a doctorate in education and a law degree.
"The economy is intertwined with our education system," said Ford, who has the backing of the Senate Democratic Caucus. "The only way to improve the economy is by improving our education system. We must produce the workforce needed to fill the positions employers are trying to fill."
Mortenson, a retired nuclear physicist, also has a doctorate, and their race may be the first to pit two PhDs.
"The (Democratic) establishment is against me, but the voters have loyalty to me," Mortenson said. "I am running because I can make a contribution."
He announced his intention to run for the Senate before he was term-limited out of the Assembly in 2010.
THE TAX ISSUE
The Ford-Mortenson primary could come down to taxes.
Ford won't commit to increasing taxes now, saying that all sides need to come to the table before any tax bill is discussed and that all taxes must be "equitable."
Mortenson said he would push for enactment of a state income tax on business profits.
"What money businesses would pay in income taxes could be deducted from their federal income taxes," he said. "It is a win-win for the state and business. It would have to be carefully crafted, but it would not cost business more."
With an income tax, he said, Nevada could reduce high Department of Motor Vehicles fees and have sufficient funds for education.
But a source with knowledge of the tax system said Mortenson is wrong about the ability of businesses to deduct all of their state taxes from their federal income tax. Many businesses operate in several states, and they must apportion shares of their tax bills to each state, the source added.
Mortenson is convinced that a profits tax on businesses is better than the current 1.17 percent payroll tax most businesses pay, even if they are losing money. Under a profits tax, he said, businesses that are losing money would pay no taxes.
HOW DO YOU SAY NEVADA?
One bill he won't be proposing if he wins is legislation that stipulates it is OK to pronounce "Nevada" any way you want. He vowed in 2010 to introduce a resolution stating that Nuh-VAD-uh is the correct pronunciation, but that Nuh-VAH-duh, the Spanish pronunciation, is acceptable, too. Although a Nevada resident for more than half his life, Mortenson sometimes uses the pronunciation that results in catcalls.
"It is rude how we treat people over how they pronounce the state that means snow-capped," he said Monday. "I don't know of any other state where they ridicule people because it isn't pronounced the way they want it pronounced."
He mentioned that television journalist George Stephanopoulos was hooted by audience members when he used the Spanish pronunciation during a presidential debate in Carson City in 2007.
Editorials mocked Mortenson over proposing legislation they considered a waste of time and money.
Mortenson no longer intends to propose anything about the state's pronunciation.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.